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Iranian weapons smuggled from Yemen into Somalia, study finds

A new study has found that guns supplied by Iran to its Houthi allies in Yemen are being smuggled across the Gulf of Aden to Somalia
Yemeni supporters of the Houthi rebels raise their weapons as they gather to mark the tenth day of Muharram (AFP/file photo)

Weapons supplied by Iran to its Houthi allies in Yemen are being smuggled across the Gulf of Aden to Somalia, according to a new study.

The study from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, a Geneva-based think tank, drew on data from more than 400 weapons documented in 13 locations across Somalia over eight months and inventories from 13 dhows, a type of boat, intercepted by naval vessels. 

The study is the first publicly available research into the scale of illicit arms smuggling from Yemen into Somalia. It said that the existence of “long-established commercial trade routes” linking the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden has facilitated the movement of illicit weapon shipments. 

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Despite the difficulties in tracking and detecting weapons, since September 2015, international naval forces have carried out 13 maritime seizures of weapon shipments believed to have been destined for Houthis in Yemen. 

While the study’s investigators were not able to document the buyers and sellers of the weapons, they found signs that the weapons that were initially supplied by the Iranian state included serial numbers that were close together - indicating that they were part of the same shipment. 

Other signs included “GPS tracks of seized arms-trafficking dhows and human intelligence gathered from within smuggling gangs”.  

The guns, the study said, end up with commercial smuggling networks whose customers can include armed factions in Somalia, clan militias and rival militant groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. 

The proliferation of arms, linked to the Yemen conflict, in Somalia has potentially severe security implications for Puntland, the autonomous region of Somalia, the country as a whole and neighbouring countries Ethiopia and Kenya. 

Iran has repeatedly denied any involvement with the trafficking of arms to its Houthi allies in the six-year civil war that has resulted in a humanitarian crisis and killed tens of thousands of people. 

But in 2018, a UN report accused Iran of providing weapons to Yemen’s Houthis after an investigation into missile debris in Saudi Arabia by experts found them to be of Iranian origin. 

However, the study stresses that, while there is a link between Iranian-supplied arms to the Yemen civil war, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also participated militarily in the conflict. 

Moreover, the study said, “arms and ammunition supplied to Yemeni actors by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and even the United States have previously been diverted into illicit markets”.

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